English…It’s Complicated.

Another post about language! But from a different angle.

So working in a tourist shop, I obviously get a lot of customers who aren’t British. Maybe the occasional English person, but most of the time they are from somewhere else. So besides Americans, Canadians, and Australians, none of my customers speak English natively. And that’s about 60% of the customers (we get a TON of Americans, Canadians, and Australians, considering how far away those countries are).

Here are some of my experiences.

Articles. Apparently we don’t need them. Most of the people I’m talking to are dropping the “the”, “a”, “an”, “that”, “those”, “this” right out of the sentence, every time. Two of my coworkers (natively speaking Polish and Italian) drop their articles so often that I find myself doing it sometimes as well because I feel like they might not understand if I use too many articles (which is probably really terrible for me to do). I can kind of understand the lack of article usage, because I think there are quite a few languages out there where the articles blend into other words via suffixes and prefixes.

Adjectives. Often I have people ask if I have any scarves that are “bigger.” When I ask if they mean wider or longer, I get total blankness most of the time. Then I show them every size we have and ask if any of those are sufficient. Most of the time what they meant by “bigger” is longer. But if I were going to ask for a “bigger” scarf, I would’ve been looking for a wider one. Very confusing. Although if I think about asking for a “bigger” something in German…I’m not sure I know all the correct adjectives there either.

Refusal. Some people just won’t speak English. I mean, it’s one thing if I start talking to them and they say “no English”. That’s fine. It’s another if they come up to me and start jibbering in some other language. Even when it’s clear that I have no idea what they are saying. I had a man who was speaking what I think was Portuguese, telling me that this hat was too big for him. He kept putting it on, gesticulating to me about how it was covering his eyes and therefore clearly too big, and then taking it off and handing it to me. Only to grab it back when I kept saying “that’s the only size we have in that color. If you want a smaller hat you’ll need to choose a different color.” (Should’ve used less articles.) I kept trying to hand him smaller hats in other colors, but he kept pointing and waving around the big one getting angry that it was too big for him and yelling at me in Portuguese. What a nightmare. *rolls eyes*. This also happens a lot with Chinese people. And elderly Germans, but that’s fine because I do understand them. But that’s it; sorry that German is the only other language I understand, universe!

Disappointment. People are often disappointed that I’m not Scottish. I don’t know why they don’t point that out to my European coworkers. But all the time people say to me “well, you’re obviously not Scottish. Where’s your accent?” I don’t have one. As you said, I’m obviously not Scottish. Though I think this is many Americans’ subtle way of asking me if I’m an American. Americans love beating around the bush. They are always delighted to find out that I am, in fact, a fellow American. And then they inevitably say either “you’re a long way from home!” or “what brought you all the way out here?” In contrast, Canadians ask where I’m from and when I say Utah, they paste on a polite smile and say “oh, that’s nice.” Unless they’ve been there, then we always have a great conversation about Utah’s array of outdoor sports (thank goodness I’ve tried pretty much all of them).

Scandinavians. Their English is perfect. I had a Norwegian guy in today and I thought he was Canadian, that’s how slight his accent was. Well done, Scandinavian school systems.

Thistles. This is a really hard word for many people to say. Today I had a German girl ask if we had a ring with a Celtic knot and a “sizzle.” I almost laughed out loud when I realized she was trying to say thistle. Not at her, but at the idea that thistle was so hard to say. Bless those languages that don’t have “th” and “tl” sounds. ❤

Maybe for my next adventure I should go teach English somewhere…


One response to “English…It’s Complicated.

  1. Hah! This was great. John and I totally learned how to speak “Indian English” with no articles, a few British words and a lot of stating the obvious. He (John) has one certain coworker, I don’t know where she’s from, but he will talk to her like that, with no articles. When I hear him on the phone, it sounds so demeaning, but that is just how those two talk to each other. He picked it up in Hong Kong.

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